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JAMES BEHRENS: The call of friendship leads one outside the confines of the comfortable

There must be something in the grand design of things that limits our horizons. I do not know why that is. But I know that I have fallen victim to its effects many times in my life.

Briefly put, something about us drives us to limit our range of seeing and loving to those with whom we feel at home. We go through life making constant circles and invite into them only those who think like us, share our supposed values, like what we do and reinforce our strong and weak points. I suppose it is comfortable there. No one in the circles challenges us to see or move beyond them. Our points of view solidify. In short, we see life myopically.

The monastery is an interesting place in light of the above.

The hardest thing I found when I moved here 17 years ago was learning to live with and learn from people I normally would have avoided prior to coming here. I simply would have chosen not to cross paths with them. They would have had no claim on my time, my interest, my agenda.

I suppose it was a clique mentality that I bought into many years ago, as far back as grammar school. Like attracts like, and all that.

When I was ordained a priest, I began to see things differently through the many couples I married, most of whom started out their marriages on the "just us" float. They clung to each other out of a need to keep secure and forever heady the throes of early love.

I began to see that if a marriage was to stay well and reasonably healthy, the little circle of two would have to break. Marriages can deepen in love and maturity only to the extent that a couple learns that their love is for others.

There are similar lessons for me here. We all need special friends, and I have them here, but the call of friendship leads one outside the confines of the friendship to a larger world. A healthy community life is a living blend of men or women who strive to embrace the whole. All belong. All can learn from each other. All struggle to live their humanity in and through the others.

It is an ongoing challenge. It is always possible to drop out, or to show up to community life and just pay lip service. But the invitation is always there to give of oneself in the here and now. The community takes an exacting toll on the heart of any one member. But it is the only way that the heart can be given back, renewed and deepened with the wisdom and life that the community alone can give.

There can never be a time or a place where the "just us" life thrives. It may survive for a while, but the call for growth, for expansion and a life into the new, is always just beyond the confines of the secure. Growth is inevitable. It may take a long time to move out of one's carefully guarded "me" confines. But we will all come to know the joy and promise beyond whatever home we plan for ourselves,

God has another one, one that includes those we left out along the way. It is through them that we will always learn the ways of love and of betterment.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net.